Cry, the Beloved Country - Book One, Chapters 12-14 Summary & Analysis

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After news of the murder, Mrs. Ndlela visits Msimangu to tell him the police came looking for Absalom. She sent them to Mrs. Mkize, who has a reputation for dubious affairs. Msimangu hopes to go see Mrs. Mkize without telling Kumalo the news, but Kumalo appears and Msimangu must reveal the truth to the worried father. They set off to visit Mrs. Mkize, and Kumalo insists on paying the taxi fare. Mrs. Mkize sent the police to Mrs. Hlatshwayo in the Orlando Shanty Town, who sent them to the reformatory. The police have been to each house without getting any further in their search than Msimangu and Kumalo did.

The two men travel to Ezenzeleni to visit the blind ministry, as planned. Kumalo is overcome with despair, assuming the worst about his son’s actions. He tries to hope for the best and makes nebulous plans to heal his family, including Absalom’s girl and the unborn child. But, he knows how unlikely it is that things will go back to normal. Msimangu tells him wallowing won’t help, and Kumalo goes to listen to Msimangu preach to the blind. He takes comfort in the aid white people are giving to the blind blacks, and he is swept up in Msimangu’s resonant oratory style, taking comfort in the Bible and determining to trust in God’s grace for his son.

Kumalo and Msimangu return to Sophiatown where they sell Gertrude’s few possessions. They are glad to have the extra money. Almost as soon as they are back, the white man from the reformatory visits and tells them the worst. Absalom has killed Arthur Jarvis, and his cousin was one of the two accomplices. The white man is devastated for his ministry. Full of despair, Kumalo goes to tell his brother John about his son’s involvement, and John is similarly afflicted with anguish. The two fathers go to the prison to see their sons. Kumalo questions Absalom on why he did it, and Absalom hides behind fear. Kumalo can’t understand why Absalom gave up his job, his good recommendations from the reformatory, and his future with the girl he cared about to get involved with “bad companions.” Absalom tries to blame the devil, but Kumalo thinks Absalom should have fought the devil harder rather than ruin his own life and shame his family. The white man offers to help Absalom marry the girl if he still wants to.

John’s meeting with his son goes more positively, and John is determined to hire a lawyer. His son didn’t pull the trigger, and no one can prove he was even at the crime scene. Kumalo is shocked by his brother’s heartlessness. He is further disgruntled by the way the white man is self-righteous and takes Absalom’s actions as a personal affront to his ministry, refusing even to help find Absalom a lawyer. Kumalo decides to ask Father Vincent, a kind English priest who offered assistance, for help.


Like Chapter 9, Chapter 12 offers a Greek chorus of perspective, this time in the guise of a public meeting among whites about how to handle “native” crime. There are a variety of points of few – from the overly simplistic “hire more police” to “give them more education and jobs” to “segregate blacks into their own country.” There are examples of casual racism as well as economic arguments for lifting the poorest so that everyone gets richer as the chapter drifts into direct rhetoric to the reader about the fears, justified and unjustified, of the white perspective. Again the author makes the reader implicit in the struggle, referring throughout the chapter to “we:” “We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with gear but at least it will not be the fear of the unknown” (Page 77). Paton published the novel right around the time that racial segregation was legalized in South Africa under the system of apartheid, and this chapter is a direct appeal to his white counterparts to consider the error of this policy. Once again the author makes use of repetition, using the refrain “cry, the beloved country” to give the novel the feel of a speech addressed directly to people who have a choice about their future and are leaning in the wrong direction.

When Msimangu gets word that the police are looking for Absalom, he decides to pursue the investigation of Absalom’s culpability alone. When Kumalo appears on his doorstep at the moment, he is irritated by Kumalo’s presence. This small detail helps round out Msimangu’s character. He has selflessly helped Kumalo throughout the search for Absalom and has been almost perfect in his kindness. This small moment of imperfect humanity helps readers identify with him. It also underscores the idea of intention in the novel. Msimangu has a knee jerk reaction to Kumalo’s presence in that moment, and he feels without thinking. He almost lashes out at Kumalo before he checks himself and remembers what the other man is suffering. This focus on intention is echoed in Kumalo’s conversation with Absalom in prison. His son, like Msimangu, acted without thinking when he shot Jarvis, responding to an emotion: fear. Absalom has no answers to Kumalo’s questions of “why.” He didn’t intend to kill a man, or turn to a life of stealing and hanging out with violent thugs, but he did it anyway. He acted without intention, and the novel makes a strong case that such behavior will always end badly.

Intention follows from the theme of passive versus active. Absalom passively followed his so-called friends into danger and crime, rather than actively pursuing what he knew was morally right. As Msimangu preaches at Ezenzeleni, he, too, follows a passive train of thought. Msimangu has an oratorical gift, but he uses it to point his flock to accept their earthly suffering and look for a reward in heaven. He does not urge blacks to actively seek a better life now. It is telling that Kumalo listens to Msimangu preach and feels rejuvenated. Kumalo is not an active agent of change in this novel either. Readers should reflect on how his passivity affects their attitude toward him as a narrator.

There is also a strong emphasis and repetition of the idea that the tribe is “broken” and Kumalo wishes to “rebuild” it. Kumalo’s individual struggles, to heal his family from Absalom’s wayward behavior and to take in Absalom’s wife and child as a way of rebuilding the family unit, are symbols of South Africa as a whole. The nation is broken, and unless action is taken to rebuild it, violence is bound to ensue.


vacillate, dubious, tenacious, forgo, rueful, vagabond, smite, transfigure, prodigal, bereft

This section contains 1,170 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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